In Newton Centre, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
The Board of Aldermen voted Wednesday night to return a headache of an intersection to its original — admittedly troubled — configuration, reversing course on changes made this summer at Centre and Cypress streets that were intended to streamline traffic, but instead snarled drivers in backups up to a mile and a half long.
“With the changes we made, we didn’t just move the problem, we actually made it worse,” said David Turocy, the city’s Department of Public Works commissioner. “I think the best thing to do in this case is to go back to the original configuration. It’s the lesser of two evils.”
In June, the city added a stop sign at the end of Cypress Street where it intersects with Centre Street, and removed a yield sign on Centre, making it, not Cypress, the through street. Workers pushed out the curbing at the northeast corner of the intersection, squaring it off and eliminating a “slip lane” that drivers used when turning right from Cypress onto Centre.
The work was done using part of a $1.85 million state grant, and will be undone by the city for about $10,000, said Turocy.
“I don’t think they ever should have done anything with it, I think they should have left it alone,” said Peter Karg, standing on the patch of new sidewalk that used to be the slip lane, watching cars crawl past on Wednesday afternoon.
Karg, who lives on the south side of the city but works in Newton Centre, said he parks a few blocks away so he doesn’t have to deal with the traffic.
‘I don’t think it took much to figure out that it was going to be a disaster.’
“I think it was a very poor planning effort to do this. I don’t know how it got through and why so much money was wasted,” he said. “I don’t think it took much to figure out that it was going to be a disaster.”
The aldermen attached an emergency preamble to the vote, which means city crews can begin construction immediately instead of waiting 20 days, so the intersection should be back to tolerably terrible by the time school starts.
“This is a Band-Aid on a very large cut,” said Alderwoman Marcia Johnson.
Turocy said the city will continue to brainstorm possible fixes, such as installing a traffic signal. The city has made improvements to other areas of Newton Centre, including installing a new traffic signal at Centre and Beacon streets, that Turocy said should help ease congestion.
After the changes were made to Cypress and Centre streets, Turocy said, traffic began backing up on Cypress and Parker streets all the way to Route 9, and even Dedham Street at rush hour.
While some aldermen praised Turocy for taking responsibility, others expressed frustration that the changes had not raised any red flags with traffic experts when the board took its vote to approve the project last summer.
“I’ve got to be blunt about it, it sort of is daunting for me, the next project that comes along, the one that we’ve got under consideration right now for Riverside, where all the experts are telling me the traffic’s going to work just fine,” said Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, who is running for mayor. “I’m getting a stomachache every time I hear it now because I don’t know who to trust.”
Alderwoman Susan Albright, who voted against allowing any more changes to the intersection, said she is afraid that the planning involved in reversing the changes would be as bad as the planning that went into making them.
“How are we going to solve the mess that is Newton Centre? It’s a mess there. And you’re just going to put it back to the mess,’’ she said. “I’d rather move forward, not backward.”
In addition to pushing back the curb line and taking down the stop sign at Cypress, workers will improve the pavement markings at the intersection. But instead of returning the yield sign to Centre Street, a stop sign will go in, Turocy said.
Turocy said he expected the work, which is scheduled to begin on Monday, to take about two weeks.